A Day in Florence

It’s 170 miles from Rome to Florence, but thanks to Italy’s generally great train system, we got there in 90 minutes. (Boston to NYC should be so easy!)

Here’s how we spent our 8 hours…

Our first stop was the central market for some energy. Lots of meats, cheeses, dried mushrooms, veggies and wine – we chose a spinach and cheese calzone and some cantucci.

We headed to the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence. Begun in 1296, this catherdral is the 3rd largest in the world. Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance and this building is a major symbol of that era. The building is capped by Brunelleschi’s famous dome – the largest brick dome ever built.

The blocks between the Duomo and the Arno river are (mostly) car free and devoted to shopping, fun, dining and of course gelato. We enjoyed them all!

There are multiple bridges across the river, the most famous is the Ponte Vecchio. This bridge is lined with jewelry shops – the Medici family that ruled Florence and lived on the other side of the river decided that was an acceptable trade and displaced the butchers that were originally there. Even then, the Medici’s still had a passage built on top of all the shops so they didn’t have to mingle with the regular folks!

Just a block off the river, is the town square with the famous statue of David by Michelangelo (ok, its a copy…) and some other important artworks. And 6 cafes….and the Uffuzi gallery we visited many years ago.

After one of our best meals of the trip (ask Melanie about Nobile Soup!) it was back to the train station for our trip to Rome. A GREAT day for us!

Two Wheeling the Appian Way

Time to take a break from walking and rent some bikes for the day! We did an out and back ride on a section of the Appian Way – riding on 2300 year old cobble stones was a great journey back in time.

The Appian Way was constructed in 312BC by Appius Claudius to connect Rome and Capua, an ally city to the south. 132 miles built in only 1 year! It’s initial purpose was for moving military supplies, but was later extended to a port on the ’boot heel’ of Italy and used for trade with the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

Along the road, we saw buildings, monuments, villas, viaducts, catacombs and even a 10,000 seat ’circus’ used for chariot races. It’s a bit of a jumble of time periods, but a wonderful adventure. Use a road for 2300 years and you build up a bit of history!

Etna From All Sides

Rain showers were forecast for the weekend, so we adjusted our schedule and drove 1-1/2 hours north from Syracusa along the eastern coast of Sicily to get some great views. For most of the drive, the mountain was filling our front windshield, at least till we started our hill climb to Rifugio Sapienza (1900 meters).

As we wound up the side of the mountain, we passed vinyards, orchards and farms as well as lava flows from past eruptions. And we got stuck in a sheep traffic jam!

The Rifugio is the access point for a cable car ride up to 2500 meters. From there, you can walk or take a 4×4 up to 2900 meters – that’s the current limit for visitors due to volcanic activity. The landscape from the Rifugio is mix of volcanic ash, lava flows, craters and a few bits of vegetation taking hold.

We hiked to several viewpoints and circumnavigated a small crater from a 2001 eruption. There’s still enough heat there to create steam from warm-to-the-touch rocks – 21 years later!

Two days later, we returned to Etna for a drive through the wine growing regions on the east and northern slopes. Clouds surrounded the top and there was thunder and lightning in the distance, but we only had 1/2 hour of rain and used that time to grab some lunch.

Our afternoon destination was a wine tasting at Pietrodolce, a very fine winery on the north slope. Their ultra-modern winery was constructed in 2009, but built in the middle of 50-100 year old vineyards. We got a tour of the operation, a walk through the vineyards and a chance to sample several of their delicious and pricey wines.

Tomorrow is our last day in Sicicly, then on to Rome!

We’re in Sicily!

Melanie here! Giving Doug a break from writing.

Sicily. So excited be here! We arrived late, having lost a chunk of Palermo time to a cancelled flight from Naples.  But that’s ok- as always we made the most of the time we had.

I really liked Palermo. During trip planning, some people told us “get out of there as quickly as you can”.  Others said otherwise. I fall in the otherwise camp. Arriving late on Friday we ventured out from our hotel at 10pm, and came across a “city that never sleeps” street filled with restaurants, wine bars and people strolling. A midnight to bed for us on this first night with no complaints. Doug did a great job finding us a wonderful hotel – beautiful, central, friendly and super helpful hosts. A great way to start our Sicilian adventure.

Saturday started with a food tour with Streaty. We always enjoy food tours, because in addition to trying foods we wouldn’t otherwise, we get a walking tour with a knowledgeable local guide who tells us about local culture and history. Angelo from Streaty didn’t disappoint. He was especially earnest when talking to us about the Mafia. His great uncle was a victim. He didn’t think there was anything funny about that era of the city’s history, even if the movies made were entertaining, and expressed that folks in Palermo do not want to be thought of as the mafia city.

After our food tour, we visited Teatro Massimo, Palermo’s beautiful opera house which is the third largest in Europe behind Vienna and Paris, and generally explored the city. The architecture of the city is beautiful. Palermo was settled by the Arabs, then conquered by the Normans, then the Romans, and still today is a multicultural and architectural patchwork that reflects a combination of these influences.

The next day, rental car in hand, we visited the hilltop, mosaic-rich Monreal cathedral, on our way to Trapani.

Monreal cathedral

In Trapani, a cable car took us high to the ancient city of Erice. Today it’s a touristy village with famous pastry shops.


Dinner in Trapani that night included a conversation that we were starting to feel rushed and trying to cram in too much. This, despite having what we thought was the luxury of 10 days in Sicily. So we decided that the next day we would ditch some of the “nice to do” sites we had planned in order to focus on the grand prize, unhurried time in Agrigento to visit the Valley of the Temples. I’m a sucker for Greek and Roman ruins, and this site is the one of the most well preserved Greek sites in the world. We’ve been fortunate to spend time in Greece at the Acropolis (wow!), Olympia (incredible to picture the olypmians competing there), and Delphi (probably one of the most beautiful Greek sites I’ve seen). Agrigento was a fantastic addition to all of this.

Agrigento – Valley of the Temples

Next up, we continue our counter-clockwise tour of Sicily, visiting Ragusa, Taormina, Mt Etna and more. Stay tuned.

Passaggio in Sorrento

One of the great Italian customs is Passaggio – the evening stroll before dinner. On our last night in Sorrento we joined the locals, expats and tourists on Corso Italia, a pedestration Main Street. We then wound our way through the older Greek Quarter – now packed with vendors of leather and lemon products. And finally down to the fishing harbor for a could-not-be-fresher seafood dinner. Goodbye & grazie Sorrento, Scicily here we come!

The Path of the Gods

Winding its way along the rocky coast through lemon and olive groves, The Path of the Gods descends from the mountain town of Bomerano to the seaside in Positano. With a name like that, this hike had a lot of built in expectations. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint.

We started with a bus ride ’up’ from our base in Amalfi. The winding roads are completely incompatible with full size busses, but the bus drivers pull it off with a casual attitude. We were far from alone, almost the entire bus was filled with people with the same plan. In Bomerano we grabbed a panini for the hike and headed to the start of the trail.

The path ends in Nocelle, a village above Positano, where we enjoyed a lemon granita before starting down a few steps to Positano. How many steps you ask? 1960 if I counted correctly! Very happy we were headed down not up.

Finally we arrived in Positano – built into the hillside and filled with an endless bounty of upscale shopping.


Capri is small, about 3 Central Parks worth in square miles. Although there are only about 12k residents, they get around 2M visitors per year, so we were glad it was at least a little off season, although during the day it was hard to tell. Ferryloads of day trippers arrive around 10am, filling the town with people. Things were a bit quiter at night, but still lively.

We started our first day with an uphill morning walk to the easternmost point of the island. Our path took us through a quiet part of town, with villas all along the way. At the top of Capri, Emporor Tiberious built Villa Jovis in 27 AD and lived there for 10 years (to avoid being assasinated back in Rome). Only ruins remain, with a far newer church plopped right on top. But there is a beautiful view back to the mainland, including Mt Vesuvious.

After a quick snack, it was time for our ’circle the island’ boat tour. Most of the shore of the island is dramatic cliffs, caves and sea stacks – a boat was the perfect way to see it all.

Our second day was ’road trip day’, all the way (3 miles) to the other end of the island via bus. We intended to take the chairlift to the top of Mt. Salero (1500 meters) and then do some exploring. But an uncooperative cloud sent us to Plan B, and we were off on the ”Path of the Forts”, a 3 mile hike in the western edge of the island. The forts were built by the British in the 1800s and then improved by the French when they took control. There’s not a lot left to see from a fort standpoint, but they built them in a beautiful place!

By the time we finished our hike, the weather had cleared and we were rewarded with great views at the top of the chairlift. Back in the town of Anacapri we enjoyed a pizza and beers in the center of town before grabbing the bus back to Capri town.

Home, Car, Bus, Plane, Train, Train, Taxi, Ferry, Funicular, Capri

Planning done. Shopping done. Packing done. Refrigerator cleaned out. Dog in kennel. Might as well go to Italy! We are off for a 4 week adventure, visiting the Amalfi coast, Sicily, and Rome. Our first step, a transportation cornucopia.

We had an easy overnight flight to Rome, took the airport express train into the city, then the high speed rail to Naples, then a ferry to Capri. Everything went well and we arrived in Capri on an earlier ferry than expected. A 2 euro funicular ride to climb the 150 meters from the port to the town of Capri, a short walk and we arrived at our hotel. Well traveled but not exhausted. Dropped our bags in the room and headed out on a walk in search of views and cocktails. Found both. An early dinner, a good nights sleep and off to explore Capri for the next two days!

Our arrival into Capri
Happy hour view. 12 euro beers seem perfectly reasonable for this!

Off to Anegada

We enjoyed 5 days great sailing with Melanie’s brother and sister-in-law. Lots of sun, sailing and painkillers!

After dropping them off at Trellis Bay, we had only 3 days left on our charter. What to do with that time? Relax? Nah! It’s off to Anegada!

Anegada is the most northerly island in the BVI and the most unique. While the other islands were formed by volcanos, Anegada was formed by a reef. Its highest point is only 21 feet above sea level.

Because Anegada is a bit farther from the other islands and because there’s no line of sight for a while as you sail to it, good conditions are important for getting there. We had intended to go early in our trip, but northerly swells and lousy weather killed that plan. But with 3 days left in our trip, a great weather window opened, so off we went!

Our sail was a quick one, only 3 hours from Trellis Bay. Just pointed the boat to 45 degrees and put on the autopilot.

No Anegada yet! If you look closely you can see a green tinge to the clouds which is a reflection of the reef that surrrounds Anegada
There it is!

We had one day to explore the island – we needed wheels. A quick stop at the car rental and off we went in our Moke – nothing but luxury for us!

Miss Moke 2022
Mid-morning traffic on the busy side of the island.
Local fauna

Our first stop was Cow Wreck Beach, a beautiful and mostly deserted beach on the northwest corner of the island. It’s named for a boat full of cow bones (used for making buttons in the day) which crashed on the reef there. We enjoyed a few hours of walking and sun.

Cow Wreck Bar and Grill

After Cow Wreck, we continued along the wild north coast to Loblolly Bay, another amazing beach on the north east corner of the island. We had rotis for lunch and a nice siesta before heading back to the boat.

Even more traffic on the north shore!
Our car rebooted at some point. Who needs a speedometer?
Great spot for a power nap.

Overland to The Baths

One of the highlights of a trip to the BVI is a visit to The Baths – a granite boulder playground at the edge of the sea. We’ve visited several times before by boat, but for this trip we decided to go overland by taxi from Leverick Bay to see them.

Into Ivan’s taxi and here we go.

We headed up from Leverick Bay almost to Gorda Peak and then down the spine of the island, with amazing views to the north and south. At its narrowest, the island is only about 1/2 mile wide.

Southern bays
Northern bays
Virgin Gorda International Airport 😉

The Baths (short for Batholiths) were formed around 70M years ago when hot lava bubbles forced their way up into volcanic layers that formed the floor of the ocean. Those layers later eroded to reveal large granite boulders created by the cooled lava bubbles. Wind and waves then rounded any sharp edges leading to what we see today.

The path over the hill to Devils Bay
View from the top.
Devil’s Bay
The Caves – a path under, over and between the boulders.

After a few hours of swimming, snorkeling and scrambling, we headed back up island by way of Hog Heaven – North Sound’s BBQ in the sky. Ribs, beer and an amazing view were the perfect way to end the day!

A 180 degree view of North Sound. The little island in the back center is Richard Branson’s private estate.
A long way down to our boat in Leverick Bay